TOURISTS wishing to visit the Hebrides usually procure a boat at Oban to convey them to the island of Mull. But steam-boats sail pretty frequently during the summer from Glasgow to Tobermory in Mull, and sometimes visit Staffa and Iona, touching at Oban on their way; and tourists generally prefer the greater safety and convenience of this mode of conveyance.
I. If a sailing-boat is preferred, the usual route is to cross over to Kerrera, and from this island, by the ferry-boat, to Achnacraig in Mull. We then proceed, by Duart and Aros, to the island of Ulva, where a boat can be procured for the adjoining islands of Staffa and Iona.
Kerrera is a narrow rugged island about 5 miles in length, separated from the mainland by a channel scarcely exceeding half-a-mile in breadth, and forming a natural breakwater to the bay of Oban. It presents few objects of attraction to the tourists excepting the fine view which it commands of the surrounding islands and the adjacent .shores. It was here that Alexander II died while meditating his expedition in 1249; and here that Haco of Norway assembled his island-powers for his ill-fated descent on the coasts of Scotland.
The isle of Lismore may be visited before entering the sound of Mull. It is a fertile island,1 about 9 miles in length, by 2 in breadth. Its chief produce is barley. It formed in ancient times the episcopal residence of the diocese of Argyle, whose bishops were frequently styled 'Episcopi Lismorienses'2 There are the ruins of a church, with some tombs, upon it; and, until recently, a Roman Catholic college. In this island there is a small lake containing sea-trout, although it has no visible communication with the sea. The bay of Oban is seen to greater advantage from Lismore than even from Kerrera; but it is not usual for tourists from Oban to land at Lismore. After nearing it, steamers leave it upon the right, and bear up the sound of Mull.
Steering westwards, and entering the Sound of Mull, we pass the Lady rock, near the point of Lismore,---a rock visible only at low water, on which Maclean of Duart exposed his wife, a daughter of the lord of Lorn, in the hope that the rising tide would relieve him from a woman against whom he had conceived a mortal aversion. Duart castle3 is here seen on the left, on the brink of a high cliff of the shore of Mull. It was the seat of the chief of the Macleans,--'the wild palace of wilder chieftains.' The main building is a large square tower of Norwegian strength, the walls being nine feet thick. A small garrison was stationed here till a recent period. It is 4½ miles from Achnacraig ferry. The channel betwixt Mull and Morven is deep and finely curved. The island shores on the left are mountainous and ragged compared with those of the mainland on the right. A few cultivated patches here and there arise on the Morven side; and almost every promontory on either side, is crowned with some mouldering relic of feudal and perhaps Scandinavian ages. "In fine weather," says Sir Walter Scott, "a grander and more impressive scene, both from its natural beautles and associations with ancient history and tradition, can hardly be imagined. When the weather is rough, the passage is both difficult and dangerous, from the narrowness of the channel, and in part from the number of inland lakes, out of which sally forth a number of conflicting and thwarting tides making the navigation perilous to open boats. The sudden flaws and gusts of wind which issue without a moment's warning from the mountain-glens, are equally formidable: so that in unsettled weather, a stranger, if not much accustomed to the sea, may sometimes add to the other sublime sensations excited by the scene, that feeling of dignity which arises from a sense of danger."4 Passing up the sound, Artornish castle is seen on the mainland side. Its situation is wild and romantic in the highest degree, having on the one hand a high and precipitous chain of rocks overhanging the sea, and on the other the narrow entrance to the beautiful salt-water Inch called Loch Aline.5 The tourist will recognise in it the seat of the 'lofty Lorn' and the scene of the bridal-festivities so inauspiciously interrupted by the arrival of the royal fugitives, in the 'Lord of the Isles.' Passing Scailasdale in Mull, Aros castle, another residence of the Island-kings, next greets the eye. It occupies the projecting rocky point of a deep bay in the. shore of Mull nearly opposite to Artornish, From Aros,6 the tourist may proceed, through a dreary valley, to the head of Loch-na-Keal, on the opposite side of the island, a distance of 4 miles, and thence, 7 miles farther, to Laggan Ulva, a village opposite to the small island of Ulva. Here he will be ferried across to Ulva, where there is an inn, and boats always in readiness to convey visiters to Staffs and the other islands. Near to Ulva, on its western side, is the basaltic islet of Gometra; and on the south side is the little green isle of Inchkenneth.
II. Before sketching the route usually pursued by the steam-boats we shall here borrow Dr. Macculloch's general account of the island of Mull. That learned geologist calls it "a detestable island," and affirms that· it is "trackless and repulsive, rude without beauty,---stormy, rainy, and dreary." This is unreasonably severe, and untrue.. What follows is conceived iu a more moderate grain: 'Mull is a heap .of rude mountains, and almost every point on its shores is rocky or precipitous; while, with slender exceptions, it is an entire mass of trap rocks. Benmore is the highest mountain, and the ascent is neither very tedious nor difficult. I found it to be 3097 feet high. The view is various and extensive. Staffa, Iona, The Treshinish isles, Coll and Tirey, with Ulva, Gometra, Co1onsay, Eorsa, and other objects, are seen beautifully diversifying the broad face of the western sea, distinct as in a map; while, to the southward, Scarba and Jura, with the smaller isles of the Argyleshire coast, recede gradually in the distant haze. The rugged surface of Mull itself excludes the objects to the eastward; but Loch Scridon forms a beautiful picture beneath our feet; its long and bright bay deeply intersecting with its dazzling surface the troubled heap of mountains. The southern coast of Mull is nearly one continuous range of lofty precipices, well-known to those who visit Staffa. There is little interest in Loch Don and Loch Speliv: but the former is the station of the Oban ferry. Loch Buy is equally uninteresting; and the cliffs of this shore will disappoint him who has seen those of Sky. On the western extremity, where the trap ceases, they become much more interesting though less striking at a distance: forming the low granite point of the Ross, whence there is a short transit to Iona. I might indeed spend a few pages in describing the singular wildness of this strange shore; its labyrinths of red rocks and green waves, the fairy scenery of its deep. recesses. and shrubby ravines, its thousand bays and dells and glades, where thousands might live, each in his little paradise, unknowing and unknown."
Tobermory is a fishing village on the north coast of Mull, near the entrance of the sound into Loch Sunart. It is finely situated at the head of the inner recess of a well-protected bay. It derives its name,--which signifies 'the well of our Lady Mary,'--from a holy well in the neighbourhood. It was founded in 1788 by the British Fishery Company; but appears scarcely to have realized the expectations of its projectors. There is a good inn here and a reading-room. The steam-boat generally arrives in the evening, and sails next morning for Staffa. On the south side of the bay is Dumfrin, the fine mansion of Maclean of Coll. There is scenery in this neighbourhood capable of recalling to the Italian traveller the recollection of Terni itself.
Quitting Tobermory we enter Loch Sunart and perceive the heavy swell of the Western ocean coming in upon us. The sound between Tobermory and Artornish varies in breadth from 1½ to 2 miles; opposite to Ardnamurchan the breadth in between 4 and 5 miles. Seven miles distant from Tobermory, on the mainland, are seen the ruins of Mingarry castle. The bold rugged headland of Ardnamurchan. here shoots far westward.7 Rounding the sea-beat point of Cullach we obtain, in fine weather, an extensive view of the numerous islands off Mull including the Treshinish isles, Tirey, Coll, Muck, Egg, and Rum, and far in the-north-west, the shadowy outlines of South Uist and Bana.
Staffa is about 8 miles distant from the western coast of Mull, and 6 from the island of Ulva. It is a mass of basaltic rock, about three-quarters of a mile in length, by half a mile in breadth. Its general outline is that of an insular oval. Seen from a distance, it seems only a round lumpish rock; on nearing it, its fine columnar structure becomes visible. The most elevated point is towards the south-west, where the rock attains an elevation of about 144 feet. Tourists usually proceed from the south-east point along a basaltic causeway, broad, but of unequal height, and sloping like a glacis from the water to the base of the higher columns. The first cave approached is the Clam cave, on one side of which the basaltic columns appear bent or curved like the ribs of a ship. Nearly opposite to this cave is a small island called Buachaille or 'the Herdsman,' which is entirely composed of small pillars closely agglomerated. From this islet to the entrance of Fingal's cave the pillars form one continued colonnade, beneath which we pursue our path on the causeway already mentioned, until on rounding a projecting abutment, the splendid entrance of Fingal's cave bursts upon our view. This cave runs into the rock in the direction of N.E. by E. The height from the water at mean tide to the top of the arch at the entrance is 66 feet; its breadth 42. Its whole length is 227 feet. Nothing can surpass "the beautiful symmetry of this wondrous pile, resembling, yet surpassing the imitative efforts of man,--the regular arrangement of its massy columns,---the richness and variety of the tints which adorn them, more brilliant than the hues which the painted panes of the window of a Gothic church shower on its clustered pillars, the dark shadows afforded by the intermediate recesses,--the sombre grandeur of the ponderous roof. and the smooth pavement which the sea supplies, when tranquil, to this stately temple. To borrow the language of the poet :-
The bard himself whose noble lines we have just quoted has given us a beautiful prose description of this cave. "This palace of Neptune," says Sir Walter Scott, "is even grander upon a second than the first view,--the stupendous columns which form the sides of the cave, the depth and strength of the tide, which rolls its deep and heavy swell up to the extremity of the vault,--the variety of tints formed by white, crimson and yellow Stalactites or petrifactions, which occupy the vacancies between the base of the broken pillars which form the roof, and intersect them with a rich, curious, and variegated chasing, occupying each interstice,-- the corresponding variety below water, where the ocean rolls over a dark red or violet-coloured rock, from which, as from a base, the basaltic columns arise,--the tremendous noise of the swelling tide, mingling with the deep-toned echoes of the vault,-- are circumstances elsewhere unparalleled."
Iona, 'the Island of the waves,'--or Icolmkill, 'the Isle of the Cell of Columbus'--is about 10 miles south from Staffa. It is nearly 3 miles in length and one in breadth; and is separated from Mull by a narrow navigable sound. Its highest point is towards the north, where the rock reaches an altitude of about 400 feet. It is the property of the duke of Argyle, who draws about £350 per annum from it.
The island contains 450 inhabitants, part of whom are congregated in a village near the church. The celebrated ruins consist of a cathedral, a nunnery, and St. Oran's chapel The cathedral, or church of St. Mary, is small .and cruciform; the height of the tower is 70 feet; its architecture is rude and inelegant. On the north side of the altar is the tomb of Abbot Mackinnon, who died in A.D. 1500. Opposite to this tomb is that of Kenneth Mackenzie, Earl of Seaforth. Of the nunnery, the remains are scanty; the chapel contains the tomb of the last prioress, Anna, dated 1511. St. Oran's chapel--a small building 60 feet by 20--contains some tombs, and is surrounded by the principal remaining monuments, now unfortunately much defaced by weather and the footsteps of visiters. In this hallowed cemetery,--this conventional asylum of the dead, which religion or superstition happily respected, even amid the fury of perpetual warfare,--repose, according to dubious tradition, the bones of upwards of forty Scottish, besides French, Irish, and Norwegian kings; and of many lords of the isles, bishops, abbots, and chieftains, especially of the Macdonalds, a clan of Norwegian origin, indicated by their appropriate armorial bearing, the warlike galley. On the west side of Martyr street is Maclean's cross, a beautifully carved pillar. It is said that 360 votive crosses at one time adorned this island; but that by order of the synod of Argyle, they were all thrown into the sea in 1560.9
"In Johnson's powerful and acute understanding," says the anonymous writer last quoted, "the caustic shrewdness of the critic too often prevailed over his poetical feelings; yet of his susceptibility to the poetry, no less than to the charities of that religion which he loved and venerated as essential to the peace, the dignity, and happiness of mankind, the immortal passage which records the emotions excited in his breast, by the prospect of Iona, affords unquestionable proof: 'We were now treading that illustrious island, which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and, roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge, and the blessings of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses,--whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future, predominate over the present,--advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me, and from my friends, be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue. That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plains of Marathon, or where piety would not grow warm among the ruins of Iona.' Yet it was not till the present day, that the inhabitants of Iona fully enjoyed the benefits of the Gospel. When a modern missionary Legh Richmond, visited the island, divine service was performed in it only four times in the year. Mr. Richmond repeatedly addressed these islanders; and his account of his visit to them, is one of the most interesting productions of his well-known pen." A neat parliamentary church, and manse, and a school-house, have been since erected, and a minister appointed to the island. Returning from Iona to Tobermory, tourists sometimes visit Mackinnon's cave on the western shore of Mull, about 8 miles north from Griben point.